Plant Based Eating Guide: All About Tofu

Matar tofu

I have a lot of friends who ask me about how to start eating less processed, plant based meals at home. So I wanted to start a series of cooking guides in order to demystify the process. Plant based eating doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. I see a lot of people who maybe are not prepared and decide to take the plunge but end of being hungry or not get enough nutrients. Figuring out what to eat can be daunting – especially if you’re a busy person! You don’t have to shop at expensive grocery stores to go plant based. You also don’t have to go 100% plant based right away. Gradually swapping out animal products makes sense so that you don’t waste food or have to bring home 10 bags of groceries on one day! I wanted to start with tofu. Tofu is widely available these days. It’s made from soybean curd and used in quite a few Asian dishes. Tofu does not necessarily need to be cooked and can be eaten straight out of the package but is flavorless. It also comes in different forms: silken, firm, extra firm, high protein, sprouted, etc. The softer, silken kinds can be found in the Asian pantry aisle (not refrigerated) and are used for things like smoothies, quiches, sauces, and cheesecakes. Silken tofu can can be put in a blender because it doesn’t hold its shape. Firm tofu is great for crumbling. It can be used as a substitute for scrambled eggs. Extra firm tofu will hold its shape and is good for grilling, pan frying, stir frying, deep frying, and baking. High protein tofu is very dense and packs more grams of protein per serving (it is not typically stored in water so you won’t need to press it). Sprouted tofu is made with sprouted soybeans – one manufacturer states it is “easier to digest”. I haven’t noticed much difference between it and regular tofu. Because fresh tofu comes packaged in water, it is water laden. This can make cooking it tricky and may slow down the process. This is why fresh tofu should be “pressed” before using. By this, I mean allowing the water to seep out using a clean towel. Simply wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel and allow it to sit in a colander to drain. Some people will place a heavy object over it to squeeze more water out. You only need to press tofu for about 10 minutes. After pressing it, you can slice firm/extra firm tofu into “steaks”, cube it, or crumble it before cooking. Deep fried tofu is delicious but it’s, of cours,e much higher in fat. I don’t deep fry anything so if you’d like to use this method, I would recommend a high heat friendly oil such as peanut oil or canola oil. You can achieve the same crispiness of deep frying by cutting your tofu into 1″ cubes, brushing it or spraying it with oil, and baking it on a baking sheet at 425F for about 30 minutes. Make sure to flip it halfway through baking. You can also crumble tofu with a fork or with your hands to make a breakfast scramble. Crumbled tofu can be pan fried in some oil for a high protein breakfast. Tofu “steaks” can be marinated and grilled. Just cut the tofu in half lengthwise and marinate it for a few hours prior to grilling. Stir frying tofu in a pan takes a lot of time. The tofu will eventually brown and become crispy but you’ll have to use a lot of oil. Using a wok makes this a little quicker since the wok will be much hotter than a regular saute pan. My favorite brand of tofu is by Phoenix Bean (aka Jenny’s tofu). This Chicago based company makes high quality, non-gmo tofu that has a distinct taste vs. other brands of tofu. You can also buy marinated, baked tofu that is ready to eat at places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Chipotle has a delicious meat alternative protein called “sofritas” that is made with tofu. I think it’s important make sure your tofu is non-gmo and organic. It’s also important to note that soy products such as tofu contain weak, plant based estrogens known as phytoestrogens. Studies on the health effects of phytoestrogens do not suggest that it is harmful to most people but this is controversial. How soy consumption affects an individual’s health depends on their personal health history, age, gender, how much soy is consumed, and what type of soy is consumed. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about adding tofu into your diet. Generally, very processed soy does not have the same health benefits as less processed soy such as tofu. Beware of meat substitute foods such as soy “chicken” tenders that are high in protein but very processed. I prefer to keep my consumption of these types of foods at a minimum because a plant based diet that is high in processed foods is much less healthy than a plant based diet that is minimally processed. I usually incorporate tofu into my diet several times a week. Tofu is high in protein, low in carbohydrates, and lower in fat and calories vs. meat protein. Tofu is a great source of iron and calcium. Tofu also contains a good amount of omega 3’s. Below are some of my favorite tofu recipes to get you started!

Matar Tofu

This dish uses extra firm cubed tofu that is baked.

Tofu Chorizo Breakfast Tacos

These tacos use crumbled firm tofu.

Quinoa Fried Rice with Tofu and Vegetables (with video)

This recipe uses stir fried tofu cubes.

Spicy Peanut Soba Noodles with Crispy Tofu

Soba Noodles with Tofu

Red Curry with Tofu and Vegetables

Red Curry Tofu

Bourbon Spiked Vanilla Pudding (vegan)

Vanilla Pudding Made with silken tofu.

Potato and Kale Tart (vegan, gluten free)

Potato and Kale Tart Made with silken tofu



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